Trends: Dorm Decorating


The “decorated dorm” fever that young women heading into their first year of college seem to contract every summer shows no signs of cooling down, as its popularity that began two decades ago continues. 

Gone are the days when freshman students arrived to find the girls’ quarters awash with drab walls, regulation furnishings and concrete tiled flooring. Back then, students were expected to embrace the reality that they could get by with a few wall posters placed gingerly with a couple of Commander strips or hooks and a few colorful throw pillows.  

Dorm decorating is now a serious business, and while some things have changed about this craze, others have become traditional “rites of passage“ for those who crave a hospitable, and sometimes even luxurious - home away from home. Moving away for the first time can often take some adjusting, and a warm and inviting dorm room does wonders to ease the uncertainty of this milestone.     

(By the way, while there may well be the few freshman guys who participate in the dorm delirium, this trend is, by far, in the domain of the young women!)  

The “room enhancement” fervor enjoyed by this group allows students to express their own personalities while creating a comforting sanctuary. Whatever her tastes – and that of her roommate’s – a well-calculated plan can ensure an end product that reveals the vibe they seek, be it contemporary, vintage, boho, preppy, or just cozy. While this is not an inexpensive undertaking, a keen strategy can help them cut some corners as they craft this special place. 

Jackson resident Dawn Thomas – who is often recognized as the first “dorm decorator” in the nation – says she started the frenzy when she decorated her daughter’s room at Ole Miss 18 years ago. 

It was after Thomas had put that room together, “People started asking for my help,” she said. After she finished her second dorm do-over (this time for her niece), that room “won a Dorm Room Design competition, and the business started to grow.”  

Soon after, she received a call requesting an interview from a student interning for Town and Country magazine. “The night the article went online my website got 50,000 views in a matter of one hour,” Thomas said.  

What followed were invites to appear on several national TV shows, and inquiries from college students asking her to travel from “UCLA to Yale” to decorate their rooms. 

“I explain that this is a southern school exercise. I do northern clients, but they are coming to a southern school, or a southern client going to a northern or midwestern school,” she said.   

Though some describe her work as “glam,” Thomas insists that her room makeovers are practical and well-designed. “My rooms aren’t ‘glam’ and my mothers don’t want to be associated with ‘glam,’” she said. “They just want a classic room.”

While she says she “touches 50 to 100” dorm design projects each year, Thomas actually installs around 20 to 25 rooms, for clients who live far away and want to arrive to find a fully put-together room from top to bottom. 

How to plan and decorate that freshman dorm room yourself?  Take a look at the trends and tips below to help you express your own vibe! 


More green plants... real or fake, adding dashes of greenery to small spaces lends a feeling of hominess. Among the most popular live plants are succulents, which are small and need little water and maintenance.   

Headboards – one trend for the lingering question of how to create a comfortable and eye-pleasing headboard is to paint one on the wall (or, more likely, paint it onto a material like plywood). How to install it? Depending on its weight and size, either mount to the wall with adhesive strips and hooks (yes, this is possible!) rest it on the bed, or have it made specifically to mount to dorm bed frames.  

You may also consider using fabric (think tapestries) cut to whatever shape you can imagine.

One more trendy look? Just press a life-size poster or painting of a headboard above your pillow to create the illusion of a real bedpost. Project done – and it requires no fussy care! 

Removable faux brick wallpaper – easily transforms walls, without damage 

Rugs - abstract-shaped area rugs, or any rugs made from recycled hemp, leather, or cotton 

Recycled storage boxes – made from wicker, wool, cotton and other “earthy” materials 

Colorful small appliances – dorm-size microwaves, coffee makers, fridges and more are now available in aqua green, red, pink, blue, black, white, yellow, orange, and, yes, purple! 

Trendy storage items for small spaces – includes everything from recycled footboard caddies; to bedside trays to keep jewelry, small lamps, phones, etc.; to tall, narrow vertical storage drawers on wheels

Furniture with built-in mirrors – another clever way to save space in a small room


- One of the upcoming college students’ best friends is – a virtual haven of everything it takes to outfit any dorm room in the world, with and InstaGram great sources for images of finished rooms. 

-When you’re planning your room décor, Thomas suggests starting with bedding, as this is the largest furnishing in your room. When you and your roommate decide what your color scheme will be, work other furniture and décor around that palette.

-Don’t skip the discount stores when you’re doing your shopping. You may be surprised at what deals you may find – and, Thomas advises, remember that you are decorating this space for just one school year; don’t go overboard for perfection.   

-Allow around 10 hours to sort and arrange your belongings on move-in day. To save time, be sure to bring a few essential tools: tape measure, screwdriver, duct tape, step stool, extension cords, power strips, curtain rods and a boatload of Command strips and hangers. You’ll be surprised at how many trips you’ll have to make to Walmart if you don’t come prepared!